• The Keys to the Kingdom: What Are They?

    The Keys to the Kingdom: What Are They?
    [Matthew 16:13-20]

    by Pastor R.T Woodworth

    Jesus gave Peter "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" in our text. But just what does that mean? What was Peter to do with such keys? They were obviously a symbol of something, not a key ring with some unidentified metal keys hanging from it.

    Some have made this the handling of the headship of the church to Peter, and so they named the church in Rome or Vatican City St. Peter's Church. The story goes that Peter then had the power to forgive sins or condemn sinners since Jesus added, "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

    Others claim that what Jesus meant was that the affirmation Peter made about Christ was the statement of faith on which the church was to be founded, because Peter told the Christ, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Those who confess this statement of faith become members of the church, the body of Christ.

    "On this rock," said Jesus, "I will build My church." But what were the keys for? What would they open or what would they lock up?

    One basic concept for building other interpretations is the simple fact that Jesus' main ministry was preaching the kingdom of God, called the kingdom of heaven in Matthew.

    Keys are a means of locking out or entering in, of sealing up or opening up. When we study the use of keys in these metaphors, we hope to gain a right understanding of what the keys of the kingdom concealed or revealed. Who holds these keys and what do they open?

    Since they are called "keys of the kingdom" we must consider what they unlock and whom they let in. The best and only accurate way to find out is to discover from other teachings of Jesus what this kingdom is, why it is locked to some and opened to others.

    Starting with the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:3 and 10: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven .... Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." And in verse 20, "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."

    Key no. 1. Those who are righteous, who are humble and are still maligned, those who keep God's laws and believe His prophets, are candidates for the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 7:21, Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."

    Key no 2. Those who do God's will have access to the kingdom of heaven. Next turn to Matthew 18:3 where Jesus tells us another secret key: "Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."

    Key no. 3. Only those who are converted with child-like faith in Christ will get into the kingdom of heaven. You cannot buy your way into the kingdom of heaven with good deeds or great gifts or campaign contributions. In Matthew 19:23-24 we read: "Jesus said to His disciples, 'Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven .... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God'." He didn't say it was impossible, but "hard" for the rich to find the right key to the righteous kingdom because their values were distorted. Wealth is not a key, nor is poverty, but those who think their charity will open doors are mistaken.

    Key no. 4. The key of charity is worthy of commendation but not able to open the gates to the kingdom of God. In John's gospel are the verses that insist that we must be born again (i.e. born from above, from an origin, beginning). We must believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. What then is the result of our faith in Christ besides personal salvation? John 3:3 reads, "Jesus answered and said to him, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again (from above, an origin or beginning), he cannot see the kingdom of God'." and in verse 5, Jesus adds, "Unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."

    Key no. 5. The believer's new birth by faith in Christ as Lord is a key to the kingdom. Without this drastic change and redirection in one's life, no one can even see what the kingdom of God is, much less enter in. The Apostle Paul also tells us about this kingdom, of what it consisted, and who will not have a part in it. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God."

    Key no. 6. Keys are not given to sinners who do not repent and turn from their wicked ways. Another list of keys that will not fit nor open the kingdom of God is given in Galatians 5:19-20. "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like, of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."

    Key no. 7. Keys to the kingdom are not given to those who insist on their sinful ways. Paul repeats this fact in his letter to the Ephesians. "For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of God." (Eph. 5:5).

    Enough of those who do not qualify to hold the keys much less use them. Let's look at those who are worthy and trusted to use them to get into the kingdom. Back in Psalm 15, David investigated the qualifications by asking the question and then answering it. "Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?" These are other terms to describe God's kingdom or the dwelling place of the Lord. Then he answers with: "He who walks uprightly and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; He who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbour, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised. But he who honours those who fear the Lord; he who swears to his own hurt and does not change; he who does not put out his money at usury, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent."

    Key no. 8. Those who walk in the counsel of the Lord, who do tell the truth, who honour those who fear the Lord, keep His word, and do not do the things sinful men do. These shall live with God in His holy kingdom.

    In Psalm 24:3-4 are these admonitions about those who will be able to rise to God's country in His holy land. "Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? and who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully."

    Key no. 9. Those who have a clean record of words and deeds shall ascend to God's kingdom country.

    Isaiah describes the kingdom of God as a strong and holy city, as does John in the Revelation (Isa. 26:1-2 & Rev. 21:2). "We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks. Open the gates that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in."

    Key no. 10. Those who belong to the righteous nation of believers in God and keepers of His commandments.

    In Jesus' parables of the kingdom He gave us the keys to enter in. Several illustrations tell us what the keys to the kingdom are. For example, of the ten virgins who took their lamps, only half were prepared to wait for His coming. They entered in. In the parable of the talents the ones who invested in the kingdom won entitlement to "enter into the joy of the Lord" (Matt 25:10,23). Then the Son of Man comes to judge the nations and "The king will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'." (verses 31-34).

    'Key no. 11. Those who are faithful servants of all God has given them, those who patiently wait prepared to meet Him, and those who are part of that faithful nation which carries out His righteous laws shall have the kingdom opened to them while others are shut out.

    Paul talks about his many trials during his preaching Jesus in synagogues (meetings places) in a hostile Roman environment. And in Acts 14:22 he encourages the persecuted saints in Iconia, Lystra and Antioch by this: "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God."

    Key no. 12. Those who suffer for Jesus trough many troubles will find the key to the kingdom of God.

    Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul says they should be comforted in the fact that they have endured persecutions and tribulations, "that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you suffer." (2 Thes. 1:4-5).

    Key no. 13. Those who suffer for their faith are counted worthy of the kingdom of God.

    Again in Luke 22:29-30 Jesus says, "But you are those who have continued with me in My trials, and I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me."

    Key no. 14. Those who share the trials that Jesus had in His earthly ministry will be given the kingdom of God.

    Peter also gives us the keys to the kingdom in his epis-tle (2 Pet. 1:11) where he encourages the saints to grow in faith and faithfulness. "For so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."

    Key no. 15. Those who grow in grace and knowledge of Christ, who learn His secrets of dealing with human weaknesses, who practice patience and aspire to spiritual things shall find the way into the kingdom of God.

    James asks a question in James 2:5, "Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?"

    Key no. 16. Those who are rich in faith are promised the kingdom of God.

    One final clue is given in the Revelation 21:27 where John tells us that no one will enter the kingdom except "those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life."

    Key no. 17. Those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, because they have met the standards set by a righteous God and made possible by the Blood of Christ.

    Oh, yes, the King is coming and His kingdom is coming when His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. But the kingdom already begun must be cleansed, and the people already chosen must be purged to be ready for that glorious day of triumph.

    Are you ready? Do you have any of the keys to the kingdom? Why not? They are given to you by the grace of God for His glory and your good for ever.